Ahmed Koroma’s The Moon Rises Over Isale Eko (Sierra Leone Writers Series, 2019) probes the soul of Isale Eko, a small but culturally significant enclave of Freetown, Sierra Leone. This collection is the final volume in a trilogy that includes Of Flour And Tears (2014) and Along The Odokoko River (2016).
Nostalgia streaks across Koroma’s collections like lightning in the sky. Each poem burns with the poet’s desire to return to the communities of his upbringing—including Odokoko, Isale Eko, Bambra Tong, and Baimrace. These communities provide our poet with metaphorical sustenance. Located in the Central and East End (Istɛn) of Freetown, they are a melting pot of former slaves, Muslims, Christians, and ethnicities from all over West Africa. Born and raised in Bambra Tong in Central Freetown, Koroma spent his formative years across from the Odokoko stream in neighboring Foulah Tong, east of the city.
A seismic cultural change threatens to render extinct the values of this vibrant Freetown enclave. The rapid changes the area has undergone have left behind diluted Orjeh and Hunting societies and remnants of Yoruba and other languages in the songs, rituals, and casual conversations of the neighborhoods. Ahmed Koroma scavenges the debris brought about by change. His trilogy represents his valiant stand to preserve these diverse communities’ histories and cultures.
The collections merit attention for their depictions of Istɛn’s socio-cultural landscapes and the poet’s ability to screen their sights and sounds and capture their character and vitality amid change. Koroma uses simple language, and lucid imagery to reconstruct his childhood in poem after poem. An insistent nostalgic melody beats through them, sometimes loud, at other times muffled, compelling readers to dance (on their way) along the Odokoko, through tears, to the moonrise at Isale Eko. Celestial images spiced with African incantations and mundane vignettes make this trilogy a compelling read.
In his latest collection, The Moon Rises Over Isale Eko, Koroma opens with a letter to Freetown. His desire to see this capital city unbleached and without make-up sets the tone of the collection:
When I return to you
I do not expect a delirious mask
Nor the pretense of a blissful town
Rather it is the authentic you
The battle scars down your tired face
Reminding me of your stunning past
Like Maya Angelou, a poet who thrived on simplicity to state the profound, Koroma takes readers on a captivating but mostly easy rollercoaster ride. However, he occasionally delivers a loop: “The battle scars down your tired face” introduces a dose of realism that awakens readers from their nostalgia and reminds them of a rundown, overcrowded capital city in one compact line. In The Haunting Cry, the poet takes us into the ile aiye—secret shrine—and reveals the Yoruba orisha:
The deserted junction
awaits the haunting cry of an orisha
The voice of Ogun resonates
within the soul of the heartbroken
for he who breathes life into ile aiye
brings undying hope
In juxtaposing “The Haunting Cry” with “Dawn, another poem in this latest collection,” readers glimpse the tension and diversity of the poet’s experiences. While the former poem tells of Ogun, the latter speaks of the Muezzin (mosque prayer official) and Shahada (the declaration of God’s oneness). Both offer pathways to Allah as taught by Prophet Mohammad:
The muezzin walks away from the tower
his voice rumbling through the morning air
He pauses, no state of hurriedness
to bear the burden of others and himself
he then mutters the shahada
and returns to make the final call
his rasping voice piercing the masjid wall
However, Koroma is at his best when he expresses his yearning to return to his native land, earning him the moniker, nostalgic poet. Notably, his nostalgia transcends longing for physical places. It reaches into the psycho-emotional spaces of home and belonging. Accordingly, Koroma stitches history, culture, people, and nature into a mosaic of memories. He achieves this through his profound yet simple and lucid imagery. For Koroma, nostalgia emotes, probes, and renews Istɛn’s ethos and values.
Water is a central metaphor in Koroma’s writing. The Atlantic Ocean and the tributary Odokoko separate him from his beloved neighborhoods and homeland, but his poetry, like the pure water sprouting from the hills overlooking Freetown, flows through various social and intellectual streams in Sierra Leone’s literary world and provides a soothing, protective balm against the erosions of change.
Along The Odokoko River and The Moon Rises Over Isale Eko are available on Amazon.com. Of Flour and Tears can be purchased from the Sierra Leone Writers Series website. Pick up your copies, send them as gifts for the upcoming holiday seasons, and preserve Sierra Leone’s cultural heritages.
Oumar Farouk Sesay is a Sierra Leonean poet, playwright, and novelist. He works in the private sector, and he is currently the President of PEN, Sierra Leone chapter, and Coordinator of World Poetry Movement in Sierra Leone. His poem, “Song of the Women of my Land,” is on the West African Senior School Certificate Examination Literature-in English syllabus.